Miller’s crew knocked off Snowflake and defending champion Blue Ridge before being felled by new champ Sedona 2-0.
Flash forward to this year. Camp Verde still only has a handful of seniors. But the determination to make it back to the Final Four continues to drive this team.
"We’re really young still," said coach Dave Miller. "But if we did that well (last year) with not having a lot of experience, then another year could bode well for us."
Miller has five seniors to assume the mantle of leadership in 2003. Two started regularly last season – Sam Miller in goal and Seth Scott at midfield. Both will captain this year’s team.
Miller will likely remain the team’s top keeper, though the return of senior Matt Strickland to the program as a goalie could free him up to play more in the field, most likely at defensive center mid.
Scott will assume to role of striker with the intent of generation lots of goals. Jesse Taylor led the way at that position a year ago, finishing with a bundle of nets and several hat tricks.
Strickland is an all-region baseball shortstop and should be accustomed to balls flying at him from all directions.
The other two seniors, Otho Behr and Marvin Marquez, played a reserve role last year and will be battling for more minutes this season.
The junior class boasts plenty of talent as well. All-region player Seth McCabe, who has one of the hardest kicks on the team, will move from defense to offense, taking over at center midfield.
"We’re trying to roll him into the offense and let him quarterback the team," coach Miller said.
Zack Davis, a home school student, returns for another season as a defensive back. Trevor Hammond will move into the sweeper position, a key defensive post. Andy Brooks, who grew several inches over the past year, will step in at stopper, another key defensive spot.
Other key juniors include Isaac Orellana and Ito Hernandez.
Sophomores Rodolfo Carrillo and Ernesto Sierras have kickboxing backgrounds and will provide some more toughness on the field. Twins Manuel and Augustin Romero join Carillo and Sierras as 10th-graders with varsity experience.
The Cowboys have a couple of "freshman standouts" who could contribute to varsity but who will likely split time with JV – Will Allen and Daniel Hernandez.
Camp Verde (14-8-1 in 2002) will play in a new region this fall with a handful of unfamiliar teams. The revamped Metro will feature Phoenix Country Day, Valley Lutheran, Precision, Surrey Garden and St. Paul’s.
Phoenix Country Day traditionally has a solid program, Miller said. Precision, an inner-city school, should be pretty tough and Surrey Garden, a private school, is located within a soccer-rich area in Chandler.
The late addition of Surrey Garden put some strange twists on Camp Verde’s schedule. The Cowboys will play every region opponent at home the first time through then will travel for all of the rematches.
This will be the first year the Cowboys and Sedona Red Rock haven’t been in the same boys soccer region. The teams have scheduled one non-conference meeting for Sept. 9 in Sedona. A second meeting would have to come in the post-season since the schools are playing in different weekend tournaments.
"Rivalry games are always fun, but we’re going to use them (against Sedona and Chino Valley) as experience games," coach Miller said. "We’re going to focus on conference and on seeding for state."
The Cowboys will scrimmage at former conference foe Grand Canyon next Saturday, Aug. 30. They open the season against visiting Phoenix Country Day on Sept. 6. Miller’s crew will play in two weekend tournaments – at the Chino Cup on Sept. 12-13 and in the Old Pueblo Tournament in Tucson on Oct. 3-4.
This year, Camp Verde will have even more incentive to do well at state. The last three rounds of the 1A-3A tournament will be held on the Cowboys’ home field.
"That’s a big motivation," coach Miller said. "The guys want to do well. They want to be around that last Saturday, but we have to work hard."